Q&A: Border fence won’t solve issues

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

Name: Heather Wilson
Candidate for: U.S. Senate
Education: Air Force Academy graduate, Rhodes Scholar
Experience: U.S. Congress nine years, Cabinet secretary for New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families department, National Security Council Staff at the White House during the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Warsaw Pact, former small business owner.
Family: Married to Albuquerque attorney Jay Hone, one grown son and two school-age children

Q. Give us your thoughts on immigration, both short-term and long-term.
A. We need to secure the border and that’s not as simple as a barrier or a fence, it means you need people, technology, systems, barriers, policies all working together to be able to give us real control of the border. Because that wasn’t done and the problem grew there’s not much credibility for doing immigration reform which is also necessary. I support legal immigration but I do not support amnesty for people who came here illegally against our country’s laws. We’ve put a lot of money in the last few years into securing the border, some of that is starting to work, we have more work to do.

Q. What is your stance on the war in Iraq and how has that stance changed over the last few years?
A. I think we need to be very focused on what our vital national needs are in Iraq. I think it really boils down to two things. First Iraq cannot be allowed to become a safe haven for al-Qaida and second, it cannot be allowed to become a source of instability in the region. Those are some pretty narrow vital national interests of the United States. I don’t think we’re going to build, nor should we expect to build, a Jeffersonian democracy at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. We removed Sadaam Hussein from power and I’m glad he’s gone. I’ve been critical over the last few years of some of the things that the United States has not done as fast as it should have done, particularly the training of the Iraqi army and focusing on al-Qaida counter-insurgency strategy in the Sunni regions. Over the last three or four months things are going much better in that regard, in rooting out al-Qaida, partnering with the Sunni tribes, we need to continue to reinforce that effort so that our troops can come home and the Iraqi army can take over.

Q. Water is a precious resource in eastern New Mexico, what are your thoughts about the path we’re on with regards to that resource?
A. Water is the life-blood of New Mexico and as we grow we’re going to have to make sure we have water resources available for people. There are a couple of things that are appropriate federal role. The federal government can support funding to help the state engineer to adjudicate water claims, to map the ground water resources that we have and so forth. I’ve strongly supported that. I’ve also supported federal assistance in water projects. That often takes place over a long period of time there’s usually a pretty substantial local match for water projects but I have supported those in the past and will continue to do so. I think we need to understand and accept that there may be limitations to money available from the federal government too. Particularly when the price tag may be very, very high. We can’t look to the federal government potentially to carry all of that or particularly per number of users. You have to be realistic about where the money is going to come from.

Q. How familiar are you with the proposed Ute Water Project and what are its chances of being funded?
A. It’s something that is relatively new to me, I don’t know it as well as I know the water projects in the central Rio Grande or the San Juan/Chama project or several other projects where I’ve been the representative responsible for carrying those pieces of legislation. I would that say I’m familiar with it but not completely briefed on its status.

Q. The farm bill has been a source of great frustration, locally and in Washington. What is needed to get negotiations back on track and keep farm bill debate productive in years to come?
A. We passed the farm bill in the House this summer, I ended up supporting it. It’s one of those bills that is so big that end you end up asking, ‘on balance is this good for New Mexico.’ The Senate was debating the farm bill before the Thanksgiving recess, we’ve got to get a Senate version before we can sit down and negotiate the differences between the House and the Senate. This year has been one of the least productive Congresses in the last couple of decades. We’ve still got spending bills, we’ve only got one spending bill done of all the spending bills, the dozen we’ve got to get done … I don’t think we’ll get the farm bill done, even if the Senate gets it done, we’re talking about the first quarter of next year before we get the differences done. So it’s been a very frustrating year like that.

Q. What will you do to see that the change of mission at Cannon Air Force Base remains fully funded and grows to its full potential?
A. This is something I’ve been directly involved with since before the BRAC commission made its decision and involved when the Air Force made its decision to keep it for a Special Operations Wing and its one of the reasons why I think I’m probably best suited to be our next senator, is my experience on national security issues, I’ve already engaged directly with Special Operations Command several times and also with the Air Force making sure the gap is as small and as shallow as possible from one mission leaving and the next mission coming. And that the military construction money is appropriated to be able to grow the new mission. We’ve got to put some money into the base to get it up to the standard of the new aircraft and the new mission that is coming in. Over the long-term I would tell you I would take the same approach I have with Kirtland, which is to make sure the people in Washington know the unique missions here and the unique opportunities in New Mexico. That you continue to keep bases in good shape that often means military construction spending and strong missions. The Special Operations mission is great for New Mexico. It complements other things we’re doing here and its also where the Air Force is growing. We are now on the future cutting edge of the Air Force here at Cannon. We don’t have to worry about fighters going away we’re looking at Special Operations and that’s going to be strong for a long time. There are other missions that are complementary to that, I want to see the potential for UAV missions or more of them and the people that operate those.

Q. Is the U.S. on the right track with its military in general or do changes need to be made?
A. We need to expand the size of the Army and Marine Corps. I was one of a bipartisan group of Congress four years ago that successfully advocated for an expansion of the Marine Corps and the Army over the objections of the Pentagon because we are burning out our people. The height of the Cold War we had 18 divisions, we’re now down to 12 and we hadn’t expanded that even after 9-11 and the increasing burden on our military. And so I think we need to expand the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps in order to reduce some of the pressure on the Guard and Reserve and the rotations on our military families.

Q. What kind of business growth would you like to see in eastern New Mexico?
A. I’m a big believer of growing from within. What’s the strength of this community and how do you build on it. Really that’s more of a what does eastern New Mexico want to be and then you pitch in and try to help where it’s appropriate to do so.

Q. Many have called for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act. What is your position on the issue?
A. I think the No Child Left Behind Act was the right thing to do. It has really focused on student achievement which is where we need to be. We’ve learned some things the first five years and we need to make some changes and tweaks. For example how do we test and assess achievement of special ed. students. Is the school in the ball park? Or just not even close? What do we mean by success and how do we make clear what success is? The core elements of the NCLB act which says that local control of resources — but show us your results. And your results not just on average or not just for the middle class kids but your results for kids who do traditionally or historically have not done well in school. And its getting results. We’ve had more gain in mathematics achievement in the last five years than we had in the previous 30.

Q. What are people going to be looking for in the next president? Do you have a favorite?
A. No I haven’t endorsed anybody. I think they’re looking for what Americans are always looking for — strong leader, honest person who reflects well on America, got some wisdom and common sense, believes in a strong national defense, believes in free enterprise, I think that’s what Americans want. Somebody who will be straight with them about the problems we face and can inspire them to meet those problems.